Family of Oxford student who died of overdose urge change to uni’s drug policy

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Family of Oxford student who died of overdose urge change to uni’s drug policy

Father of former JFS pupil Daniel Mervis, 23, calls on authorities to give students support 'without being subject to automatic disciplinary action or fear of prosecution'

Daniel Mervis
Daniel Mervis

The family of a talented Oxford student who died of an overdose has urged the university to change its drugs policy.

Daniel Mervis, 23, a former JFS pupil and world record powerlifter, developed an addiction while a student at St John’s College.

The gifted Physics student began his studies in October 2014 after achieving an entrance score which placed him in the top five percent of students admitted.

He took a break from his studies in his first year to seek treatment, before eventually joining University College London in 2019 having been drug-free for eight months.

The passionate vegan, who family members remember as “an advocate for a world of compassion”, died of an overdose on October 25, 2019.

Now a coroner has criticised the Oxford college’s drugs policy, saying it could discourage students with addictions to seek the support they need.

“It was clear that Daniel was using drugs whilst at St John’s College,” said Professor Fiona Wilcox, the coroner for Inner West London in a report published earlier this month.

The coroner added that the college’s drug policy, which pledges sanctions against drug use,  “may discourage such students to seek help for their addiction out of fear of the consequences, either legal or disciplinary.

“A policy of the College which is well publicised and stresses the confidential nature of support offered may mitigate this risk.”

Daniel’s father, Hilton Mervis, told Jewish News: “Daniel cared for every sentient being. He would have wanted any lessons that could be learned to help others from addiction.

“Students should know they can go to someone associated with the college and get help and time-out for treatment, without being subject to automatic disciplinary action or fear of prosecution,” he said.

“Daniel didn’t initially admit to taking drugs, so we never knew the problem. On the one hand they say we do help you, but it all boils down to one paragraph in the student handbook.”

He added: “The main thing is to try and give help for others so that it does not happen again.”

In a statement, St John’s said it was “greatly shocked and saddened” by Daniel’s death.

It said: “Comprehensive support provisions are available to all students who may benefit from help with drugs or other medical and welfare problems, and as part of the student induction procedure the Senior Dean and Welfare Dean see all new undergraduates in Freshers’ week and specifically refer them to the support provisions available.”

But Mr Mervis said: “I’m a bit surprised given these ‘comprehensive support provisions’, to which Oxford refers is the same policy the coroner has found inadequate.

“I’m concerned that they are spending money donated by their alumni on legal fees to argue about their drugs policy rather than using it to take professional advice from a drug charity to optimise that policy.

“I would hope that St John’s would want to have a world-leading drugs policy given it impacts the lives of their most precious commodity – the student.”

St John’s must now give a response to the coroner about the action they are taking to prevent future deaths within 54 days of the report.

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